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Originally published Tuesday, February 26, 2008 at 12:00 AM

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Visions for Seattle Center's future: more green but no (Fun) Forest

The Seattle Center of the future could feature a new outdoor amphitheater where Memorial Stadium is now, additional green space to replace...

Seattle Times staff reporter

The Seattle Center of the future could feature a new outdoor amphitheater where Memorial Stadium is now, additional green space to replace the asphalt of the Fun Forest, and a newfangled Center House with glass-covered breezeways and outdoor patio seating.

Those are just some of the design options that Center officials presented Monday to City Council members. The council plans to mix and match its favorite redesign ideas and incorporate them into a master plan that will guide future redevelopment.

"This is the first opportunity we've had in almost 20 years to reshape Seattle Center," said Councilmember Tom Rasmussen, chairman of the council's Parks and Seattle Center committee.

Costs for a major revamping of Seattle Center range from $600 million to $650 million — but Rasmussen said a possible November 2008 ballot measure for the Center likely would not exceed $150 million. He said the council could delay a funding measure until 2010.

Redevelopment plans currently being considered have evolved out of the Century 21 Committee, a 17-member task force that Mayor Greg Nickels appointed. The committee has focused primarily on Memorial Stadium, the Fun Forest and Center House.

Memorial Stadium, currently deeded to the Seattle School District, appears to be a goner, with the city and school district leaning toward tearing down the stands and sharing the new space. One plan favors a new synthetic-turf athletic field for use during the school year that would convert into a large outdoor amphitheater in the summer.

Depending on seating configuration, the amphitheater could accommodate up to 20,000 concertgoers — though council members voiced concerns over noise and traffic impacts from that option.

Bill Rhoda, principal of Conventions, Sports & Leisure, an international consulting firm, said the amphitheater could compete successfully with The Gorge and White River amphitheaters.

That same option would put parking beneath the stadium and amphitheater, which council members immediately flagged as adding cost. The parking would replace Mercer Garage, north of the grounds, which could be torn down and the land sold, generating revenue to help pay for the stadium redo, said Robert Nellams, Seattle Center director.

The city already has decided that the amusement rides and arcades of the Fun Forest will shut down after 2009. Council members are on record, however, that a redesigned Seattle Center must remain kid-friendly.

The Century 21 Committee's preliminary plans call for greening up the Fun Forest's five acres, but setting aside a play area for children. One option would create a "splash area" with fountains and jets in the summer that would become an ice-skating rink in the winter.

The panel's proposed remodel of Center House would preserve the old armory's historic north facade but cut covered, open-air walkways through the building.

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Center House tenants, such as nonprofit theater groups and Center School, would remain after the remodel, as would fast-food vendors — although the seating, now in the middle of the food court, would ring the outer edges of the building and open onto the grounds.

One idea calls for a "destination restaurant" for the Center House's roof, where vistas are impressive. But some council members questioned whether a high-end restaurant could survive within Seattle Center, where parking at or near the door would not be possible.

The council also will have to decide among different options for the Mural Amphitheatre, KeyArena and the Northwest Rooms.

Jane Couchman, who lives on Lower Queen Anne, considers Seattle Center her beloved neighborhood park. She said it especially appeals to seniors, who use it as a place "to play checkers, read a paper or take the grandchildren."

She asked council members to adopt a master plan that retains sufficient meeting space, saying some "people like the park just the way it is."

Stuart Eskenazi: 206-464-2293 or seskenazi@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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